I didn’t actually intend Comic Strip “Week” to actually last a whole week, but so it has. And what have we learned? Well, I’ve certainly learned that people really love their comic strips, and that everybody’s got a favorite, as well as a few they absolutely despise. So which one have I chosen for today’s final spotlight? It’s a colorful one, I’ll give you that.
230. The Yellow Kid
I am curious (archive).
There were a bunch of good, great, and personal favorite strips left to choose from. There’s Doonesbury, Frank & Ernest, For Better or for Worse, Real Life Adventures, Zits, Get Fuzzy, Pearls Before Swine, Pogo, the Katzenjammer Kids, Buster Brown, early Alley Oop, Terry and the Pirates, the Spirit, the complete works of Alex Raymond, and even Luann (I like it, okay?). There’s another hundred or so I could probably name, and still not provide a sufficient list. (What are your favorites?) The question, however, is which one will give me a suitable column? What will sum up our themes? I may have found the answer, and that is the Yellow Kid.
The Yellow Kid, who first appeared in 1894, was the star of Hogan’s Alley, often called the first “comic strip,” though it really wasn’t. Creator R.F. Outcault was writing and drawing these things that didn’t even have a name yet for Truth Magazine, and later the New York World. They were humorous and political in nature, geared at adults, and eventually became known as “comics.” The use of color was first introduced in this feature, giving the Kid, whose name was really Mickey Dugan, his famous yellow nightshirt. Dialogue balloons were used, but the Kid’s words appeared on his shirt. I’ve also got to mention the art, which was quite articulate and jam-packed with characters and detail.
Eventually, the Yellow Kid became extremely popular and heavily merchandised, for the time, and Outcault was wooed over to the New York Journal and continued the Yellow Kid there. The World, however, also claimed ownership over the character, and continued Hogan’s Alley with a new artist, George Luks. Hence, there were two different Yellow Kid series running simultaneously. It’s here where the term “yellow journalism” was invented, due to the practices of the competing papers and the hue of the Kid’s nightshirt.
The Yellow Kid’s feature was over before the 20th century began, but he would make cameo appearances in the future, such as in Outcault’s own Buster Brown. Comics historians would be the ones to remember the Yellow Kid, and nowadays, most aficionados know who he is and how important he was to the medium. Most recently, versions of the Yellow Kid have appeared in Blade and Runaways. Yes, those Blade and Runaways series.
The Yellow Kid pretty much defined what the comic strip form would become. It was well-cartooned, fully-realized, colorful, funny, political, sarcastic, and extremely popular. Because of the Yellow Kid, comics became a go-to section of the newspaper, an important aspect of major daily periodicals. Somehow, the Yellow Kid sums up everything comics were and still are. After all, the comic strip is the most public face of the sequential art medium. We pretty much have the Yellow Kid to thank for that.
Sure, there are better strips and features out there, but nothing is more important, really, than the Yellow Kid– he started it all. From this came the comic strip, and then the comic book, and then, well, here we are, over 110 years later, still remembering the funny looking kid in the silly yellow nightshirt with the writing all over it. Thank you for lighting the fuse, Mr. Outcault. Without you, Sundays wouldn’t be as fun and life wouldn’t be as joyous and comics might not even exist. I’d be out of a hobby and a passion, and probably writing 365 Reasons to Love… I dunno… Novels, or Pastries, or Television. (#230. G.K. Chesterton! Apple Strudel! Two Guys, a Girl, and a Pizza Place!)
Why do we love comic strips? It’s a hard question to answer, really, but they’ve entertained and enlightened us for over a century, and will probably last another 100 years. And, you know, even in the day-glo jetpack-and-rocketship moonbase futures of 2107, we’ll probably still be subjected to Marmaduke and the Family Circus. Mark Trail will lecture us all on how to care for space whales. Personally, I can’t wait.
For more on the Yellow Kid, hit up the sort-of official R.F. Outcault/Yellow Kid website, or perhaps his Toonopedia entry. And for more on the world of comic strips, along with a heaping of delicious snark, visit the Comics Curmudgeon every day. I also suggest, for a deluxe history on every comic strip published up until 1995 or so, pick up the “100 Years of American Newspaper Comics” tome by Maurice Horn if you can find it. It got me through this week and provided quite a few images of old classics.